Tobacco smoking produces widespread dominant brain wave alpha frequency increases

Int J Psychophysiol. 2009 Dec;74(3):192-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2009.08.011. Epub 2009 Sep 15.


The major pharmacological ingredient in tobacco smoke is nicotine, a mild stimulant known to alter brain electrical activity. The objective of this study was to determine if tobacco smoking in humans produces localized or widespread neocortical dominant alpha electroencephalographic (EEG) frequency increases consistent with nicotine stimulation of the brainstem activating system in animals. Twenty-two male volunteer non-deprived tobacco smokers were studied. They were asked not to smoke for at least 1h before the experiment in mid-morning as part of their usual smoking schedule. In the laboratory, they sham smoked and then smoked their favorite tobacco cigarette. Two experimental sessions (#1 and #2) were conducted, separated by a one to two month interval. In both sessions, there were minor statistically significant increases in the dominant alpha frequencies after sham smoking. In both sessions, after the subjects smoked a favorite tobacco cigarette there was a significant generalized increase in dominant alpha EEG frequencies in most scalp recording sites. This study demonstrates that tobacco smoking produces widespread bilateral neocortical increases in dominant alpha EEG frequencies consistent with the stimulant effects of nicotine on the brainstem reticular activating system.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm* / methods
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult